1521: Sword in the Stone

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Sword in the Stone
That seems like an awful lot of hassle when all I wanted was a cool sword.
Title text: That seems like an awful lot of hassle when all I wanted was a cool sword.


In this comic, Megan pulls a sword out of a stone. A flash of light comes down and music plays, and a heavenly voice tells her she has ascended to the throne of England. Megan then pulls out her phone and searches on Wikipedia for England. After having read for a while, she decides she does not want the throne of England and slowly places the sword into back the rock, without taking her eyes off the text.

The comic references the fables of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In Arthurian legend, whoever can remove The Sword in the Stone is the lawful king of Britain (although this comic, as some versions of the legend, refers incorrectly to England). Arthur is an orphan being raised in secret; he notices the sword, removes it, and is proclaimed king. The sword is sometimes identified as Excalibur, although in other versions Excalibur was acquired by King Arthur from the Lady of the Lake. The most familiar version of this story is The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White which is based on Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. The animated musical by Walt Disney is a well-known version of this fairytale based on White's book.

A key element in the joke is that as Megan begins to read about England, especially information concerning being an English ruler, she quickly thinks better of this and begins to put the sword back in its place. The punchline that Megan puts the sword back after reading about England suggests that the "gift" of being the leader of England is not worth the risk and/or work associated. British history is rife with monarchic strife, and a brief inquiry into their causes of death will show that almost one in three British rulers have died either in battle or from murder, etc: Queen Elizabeth II, who was alive at the time of the comic's release, is the only English monarch to die of (exclusively) old age. This would quickly lead most people to conclude that the risks associated with ruling England far outweigh the benefits.

The title text furthers this plot, having Megan comment on the hassle when the only thing she was interested in was the cool sword. Apparently, Megan is not enthusiastic about power, and her choice is made when she sees how problematic it could be to reign over the country of England. There is also a subtle play on the fact that in the T. H. White version, Arthur likewise is unaware of the significance of pulling the sword from the stone - he is simply looking for a sword to replace the one belonging to his step-brother Kay that was stolen under his watch, to avoid embarrassment and reproach.

From the time of the Roman Empire all the way up to Charles II's reclamation of the throne, the area now known as England has seen several migration waves, Viking raids, invasions and fierce power struggles among aristocratic families. Besides the constant threat of usurpation, as evidenced by the numerous wars for the crown, such as the Norman conquest and the War of the Roses, there were also constant difficulties in managing the frontier regions. This can be seen from Hadrian's Wall, a creation of the titular Roman Emperor designed to keep the ever difficult Scots out of the areas of Roman control (the Scots would be a constant problem for England up until the reign of King James VI and I; think of the movie Braveheart for a good example of the regular headaches they caused, seen from the English point of view), as well as the Welsh uprisings that occurred with such consistency that you could set your watch by them.

It is worth emphasizing that the term "England" is anachronistic in this context. At the time Arthur supposedly existed, there was no England — England was formed by Germanic tribes who settled in Britain between the fifth and seventh centuries. In many of the stories, including the earliest, Arthur was in fact depicted as a leader of the native Romano-Britons in their attempts to repel these invaders. England would not exist had Arthur succeeded. The anachronism is not new; it entered Arthurian legend in the Middle Ages. (Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, for example, refers to Arthur as King of England.) In Arthurian legend, it was stated that Arthur would return when needed (in some versions he was explicitly associated with the Mab Darogan, a Welsh Messianic figure who would finally drive the English out of Britain and reclaim it for the native Britons). It is possible that Megan in this comic is a 21st-century reincarnation of Arthur.

The timing of this comic might relate to the birth of princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana on May 2, 2015, just four days before this comic, and the burden of a royal of having a whole life in public shaking hands of strangers. Since 2013 the line of succession was changed to absolute primogeniture, meaning that she will keep her current position in the line (4th after her older brother) even if she later gets baby brothers. Before this year, that would not have been the case, as the male gender took rank over birth order.

It is also probably not a coincidence that this comic was published the day before the UK General Election, occurring on May 7, 2015. This election decides the modern-day leader of the UK. And the problems they face today may even be more likely to cause Megan to give away the throne, than the risk of untimely death she would have faced in Arthur's days.

A similar Wikipedia gag appears in 911: Magic School Bus.

The sword in the stone also appears in 2578: Sword Pull.


[Megan walks up to a sword in a stone.]
[Megan attempts to pull the sword out of the stone.]
[A beam of light and music plays as she removes the sword.]
[While standing with the swords a voice from the sky speaks in gray shaky letters:]
Celestial voice: The Throne of England is yours
[Megan takes out her smart phone and searches:]
[Megan reads on her phone.]
[Megan, still reading from her phone, starts to replace the sword back into the stone.]

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In Arthurian legend, whoever can remove the Sword in the Stone is the lawful king of England. Arthur is an orphan being raised in secret; he notices the sword, removes it, and is proclaimed king. The sword is sometimes identified as Excalibur, although in other versions Excalibur was acquired by King Arthur from the Lady of the Lake. The most familiar version of this story is The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White which is based on Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. Having a woman remove the sword would introduce difficulties. The Dining Logician (talk) 06:12, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

Seriously? Megan being transgender is preposterous. The comic mentions a throne, not a king. The proposition that the character needs to be a man is far fetched and a bit sexist. The legend usually mentions a ruler, not a kind per se. Even if it were a king, that is a baseless statement. Legends are up to interpretation. If a woman pulls out a sword it is possible that she be crowned Queen without having a king. Case in point, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria -of England; they both have seen the glory days of Britain. 07:27, 6 May 2015 (UTC)BK201

And there was Jadwiga of Poland, female who was crowned king. --JakubNarebski (talk) 07:33, 6 May 2015 (UTC)
It's clearly Megan. Perhaps Aurthur has returned in female form (definitely not transgender), but it's unmistakably Megan. Djbrasier (talk) 13:01, 6 May 2015 (UTC)
Agreed. Why should she even represent Arthur. Anyone who could take the sword out would get the throne. I think the explanation should say it is Megan and that she has taken the role Arthur had once. Also the idea that the new princess can get the throne even if she has younger brothers may be important here as written by another user below. --Kynde (talk) 16:01, 6 May 2015 (UTC)
Absolutely agree it's Megan; she has different priorities than Arthur and has more sense than to accept the throne. And siblings are irrelevant. Whoever took the sword out was to be king, regardless of whether they had a brother (even an older one). Arthur's elder brother (ok, adopted, so Arthur was even lower...) was given the sword, but he didn't pull it out so he didn't get to be king. This was not the English monarchy after all. The surname Pendragon shows that. The English had not arrived to push the British off to the west coast. 16:17, 3 June 2019 (UTC)

In a visual novel, King Arthur is a girl. -- 08:06, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

Came here looking for this, wasn't dissapointed. More people should know about Fate! 22:19, 8 May 2015 (UTC)
C'mon, nobody mentioned Pterrys short story "Once and Future" yet? 13:01, 11 May 2015 (UTC)

Should be lawful king of Britain. King Arthur was fighting against the English. -- 08:30, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

If there were a real Arthur (dux bellorum or whatever) this is true, however in the legends things are much more complicated and inconsistent, so England is as good as anything else. -richardelguru

Actually, they're not. They are very consistent that Arthur fought the English, at twelve battles. I'm REALLY tired of the way Americans get this wrong - England is NOT Britain! Adge (talk) 23:02, 7 May 2015 (UTC)

Minor point, but Vallum Aelium was built to control the Picti, the Scots of the Dál Riata came much later and Scotland (Rìoghachd na h-Alba) is traditionally founded in the late C9CE. -richardelguru

I doubt it's a coincidence that this comic was published the day before a UK general eating contest that is widely predicted to be heading for the most complicated hung parliament in history. The monarch is a purely ceremonial head of state in practically all respects, but does (in theory) have the responsibility to "ask" someone to form a government (in practice, the person asked is determined by who holds the parliamentary majority, but there are huge arguments raging about who will "legitimately" hold such a majority, the leader of the party with most seats or the leader who can rustle up the biggest coalition). 09:11, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

I agree that this is a much more likely explanation for the timing of the comic. Don't have time to change the text myself right now ... --RenniePet (talk) 10:51, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

The punchline could also be about how it would be way too much hassle to try to lay claim to the throne in modern times, challenging the British royal family and all - Megan would probably be treated like a lunatic. 11:19, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

Arthur is a long haired boy [1], [2]. The comic shows a boy, not a woman. 12:56, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

The original Arthur is certainly a boy, however this comic is in the xkcd universe and in modern times, so if it looks like Megan, it's Megan. There's nothing in the comic itself that hints at the gender of the character. -boB (talk) 14:43, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

I just thought that the joke was how distracting Wikipedia can be and that Megan/Arthur here gets addicted to reading Wikipedia articles of even the most obvious things in the least appropriate moment. "Oh cool, the throne of England? Isn't that that European country. Let's see how big it is. Oh, wow, 120,000 square kilometers. What's that in miles? Hmm, alright. Huh, kilometres is spelled like this according to the international spelling? What is that?" etc etc, you get the idea :p Maplestrip (talk) 12:59, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

The title text would seem to go against that explanation. 13:21, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

It's Megan. The new princess is the first woman who can inherent the throne without being leapfrogged by younger brothers. Before the Succession to the Crown Act (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Succession_to_the_Crown_Act_2013) if Megan had pulled the sword out one of her brothers would have gotten to be King. (signed by jan) (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

This and the eating contest tomorrow seems like the main reason for this comic. Forget Arthur for anything else than explaining the idea with the sword.--Kynde (talk) 16:01, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

She put it back because she discovered this country is a shithole. 14:23, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

That was how I interpreted it. Nothing about the election, Princess Charlotte or the British monarchy, it's simply a contrast between the way the throne of 'England' is portrayed in the legend - an illustrious ultimate prize bestowed upon the worthy from on high with bombastic fanfare and supernatural mysticism - and the reality of England being a drab backwater not worth ruling. 20:54, 15 June 2015 (UTC)
Me too. Maybe it's because I watched today episode 191 of The Big Bang Theory, where a British described England as "Cold, gloomy and easily accessed by a Frenchman through a tunnel." (that last part is context specific). Nonetheless, I've seen the depreciation of England in other media a few times. 03:12, 22 December 2015 (UTC)
Is England that bad? It’s only 360 days of rain and depression a year, boarding schools, a drink-spiking crisis, a high cost of living, and a failing economy! /s 42.book.addict (talk) 21:17, 2 February 2024 (UTC)

I think it's Megan. - RecentlyChanged (talk)

I removed the reference to Megan becoming "heir to" the throne, as that implies she is next in line, rather than immediately ascending to the throne Miamiclay (talk) 16:40, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

Well, wait: if the character is "heir to" shouldn't we label / call him "Heiry"? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

My peronal take: Megan could technically abdicate the throne, letting it return to status quo or having the next-in-line take the turn. That way, Megan can keep Excalibur while not having to worry about ruling the country. -- 16:56, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

I think using the term "yellow press" to refer to the news accounts of the birth of Princess Charlotte is uncalled for as this is a valid news event.  Certainly there are some publications and media outlets that will take this completely over the top, but to lump reputable and long-honored papers such as the Times of London, the NY Times, the Washington Post, and many other publications in with the likes of the Daily Sun, the NY Daily Post, the National Enquirer, and Fox News just isn't right. 17:31, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

Is it possible that this comic also referred to the relatively low amount of power exerted by the British Royal Family now compared to long ago? BowtieMaster (talk) 21:37, 6 May 2015 (UTC)BowtieMaster

Sign it with four tildes, your signature broke the page before. 21:24, 6 May 2015 (UTC)

Since this comic is set in the same 'reality' as the legends, and in the legends King Arthur is killed by his illegitimate son, wouldn't accepting the throne be more dangerous than it would be in reality? The Dining Logician (talk) 13:30, 7 May 2015 (UTC)

The legends also say that Arthur never actually died, and was instead taken to Avalon where he was healed.

On "transgender megan"- implying that transwomen are actually males is rather transphobic. 00:03, 9 May 2015 (UTC)

As a Whovian, I think the reason why she puts it back could be because she has had foreknowledge of King Arthur picking up the sword and becoming King of England, so she could attempt to keep history as is when she puts it back. 01:07, 10 May 2015 (UTC)

Can we STOP arguing over ambiguous legends on whether some parts are true canon or not? With this many interpretations of it, we might as well conclude there's NO ONE CANONICAL VERSION! 15:21, 21 November 2019 (UTC)

But I have a new headcanon: in this version, the sword was returned, and Megan just found it randomly. 15:21, 21 November 2019 (UTC)